January 1, 2007
Working in that genre of free improvisation where timbres and textures trump notes and technique, British alto saxophonist Graham Halliwells singular vision is best realized as part of a close partnership, as these thought-provoking CDs demonstrate.
Halliwell, whose influences includes composers Morton Feldman and Alvin Lucier plus abstract visual art, distills minimalist sounds and textures in different fashions on each CD. As much as the differences make sense when describing Halliwells mixed- media modus operandi, Statics, recorded with bassist Simon H. Fell and percussionist Simon Vincent as VHF is a live session, while Recorded Delivery features Halliwell mixing live or pre-recorded feedback saxophone tones with live or already existing sound samples from individual partners.
Comparing both CDs, it turns out that the minimalist ethos is present no matter the configuration. Thats because VHFs partners are as committed to unconventional sound structures, as the players featured on single tracks of Recorded Delivery: American Steve Roden who manipulates resonant light tones, Londons Mark Wastell, who plays tam tams; and Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies. Vincent, who also uses electronics on Statics, regularly performs his own electro-acoustic compositions and improvisations, while Fells background extends from Free Jazz and orchestral work to experiments with electronics.
Appropriately-titled each CD calls for active listening.
Roden, who has been constructing his lower-case audio spaces since the mid-1980s, uses multiple signals and processes to create pointillist guitar-like strums and chromatic buzzes. During the course of his 18 minute plus duet with Haillwell, looped saxophone feedback distinctively complements his minimalist output, leading to preening tinctures of aural colors. With pre-recorded buzzing reed timbres joined with a collage of elbow-and-finger-created tones from Davies, the saxophonist aims for a more profound interaction on a second track. Melding those likely piezo-amplified tones with quivering saxophone feedback moves the ambient textures to louder and more demanding interface.
Liveliest of the Recorded meetings, the match-up between tapped reverberations from Wastells tuned gong and the reedists sibilant intonation, results in unique polyphonic harmonies. Advancing in discordant broken octaves, the blows and peeps slowly slant the tonal centre outwards.
In contrast, with pitches ranging from boisterous to nearly inaudible, VHF explodes the solipsistic sound of a Free Music trio to push the CDs three selections into the realm of memories, suggestions and comparisons. As Halliwells fluttering tone vibrations resonate in a cistern-like space, Fell squeaks sul ponticello lines and Vincent references Native American whale drums and gourd rattles.
With the steadying pulse of electronics more noticeable than on Recordeds Roden track, the trio has a base on which to base its improvisations. At one point or another, the saxophonist limns micro-tonal flutters, tongue slaps and stops, echoes the shrill sound of a train whistle or lows as if playing a didjeridoo. Fell highlights angled col legno spanks and vibrated sul tasto swipes, as Vincent surmounts expected percussion language with pitter-pattering bell shaking and limpid cymbals resonation.
Eventually, the session climaxes as timbral strands surface from the nearly inaudible murk to reassemble as watery reed bubbles parsed by legato string swipes and tremolo stops. While triggered electronic static crackles, perception alters by the finale.
Not for everyone, both CDs offer unique new music informed by interpretations of reductionism.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Statics: 1. Statics 1 2. Statics 2 3. Statics 3. Vibra #3
Personnel: Statics: Graham Halliwell (alto saxophone); Simon H. Fell (bass) and Simon Vincent (percussion and electronics)
Track Listing: Recorded: 1. Beat* 2. Resonant Light Tones Revisited+ 3. Vibra #3^
Personnel: Recorded: Graham Halliwell (feedback alto saxophone); Rhodri Davies (harp)*; Mark Wastell (tam tam)^; and Steve Roden (resonant light tones)+